Keep Calm and both hands on the wheel


My column this past week was to question where the responsibilities for traffic safety lie.  You can read it here:

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My interest in this topic came about in regards to a traffic safety issue that has been raised at Devins Drive School.

Being proactive the school has formed a traffic safety committee, which circulated a notice to parents of children as well as houses surrounding the school as to their  activities. 

I happen to fall into both groups.  

My daughter attends the school and the changes they proposed were to two intersections on my street.

Upon inquiring more as to the solutions they were investigating I was invited to sit in on one of their committee meetings.

It was at that meeting I had the opportunity to cross paths with former Mayoral candidate Roger Clowater.  Mr. Clowater was was hard to recognize.  He arrived late sporting a green camouflage jacket.   Not knowing Mr. Clowater’s pursuits I was unsure if he was returning from a hunting trip or not.  If so perhaps he could be approached by the region to rid Aurora of our coyotes.  Of course if he was going  to embark on such a task perhaps matching the color of camoflauge to the season may improve its effectiveness somewhat.   

Back to the meeting. It was insightful and the committee as a whole has done a lot of groundwork and begun a lot of initiatives that endeavour to change the traffic patterns and safety at the school.  A side benefit to these changes will be a push to increase walking to school as an alternative to driving/taking the bus.

The committe invited and heard from two representatives from the Region about programs including a “Walking School Bus”.  Admittedly it paints a funny mental image, but after hearing more from two representatives from the Region talk about the project to the committee I could see it has some merits.

The Dutch have married this concept up with their love of the bicycle and have produced a school buscycle:

IVN is a dutch non-profit organisation to provide nature education to kids. You can read more about the bike pictured here: 

Outside of this initative what concerned me was that the group had focused on only two solutions to pitch to council.

The first was they wanted a fulltime crossing guard at the intersection closest to the school.

The second was they wanted a stop sign errected at an intersection farther out from the school, a request that had been made to council and refused 3 times prior.

After the meeting I felt their approach seemed rigid and didn’t present sufficient alternative options for council and staff to review.

I forwarded what I saw as a range of solutions and placed them in what I percieved to be the priority they should be considered:

A.) Banff & Devins Dr. intersection

1.) Increased police enforcement
From speaking with another Banff resident it should be pointed out that police presence around this intersection and the school area in general was particularly low.  If there is any chance in changing traffic behavior for the purpose of increasing pedestrican safety and curbing the excessive rolling stops at that intersection it should be done with stepped up enforcement.
Request council and staff increase the efforts with York Region police to schedule greater enforcement of this intersection due to its proximity to the school.

2.)  Increase signage approaching the intersection from the North/South and West where possible
Recognize that regulatory signage designs and installation locations must follow the rules and regulations of the Highway Traffic Act and/or the Ontario Traffic Manual.  Seek staff’s input to discover options.

3.) Develop a park-and-walk-a-block program at the school.
Reducing traffic from this intersection and redirecting them to the other two entry points, one of which already has a crossing guard.

4.) Commit temp crossing guard.  
Richmond Hill has apparently addopted something similar.

5.) commit full time crossing guard 
Recognize that the reason this has been declined in the past has been due to low volume.  Suggest conditions of a 1 year trial if necessary with proper monitoring of traffic.

B.) Banff & Kemano intersection

1.) Increased police enforcement
A popular misconception is that stop signs can assist reducing vehicle speeds or cut-through traffic. However they are ineffective as motorists have a tendency to speed in between stop signs to make up for lost time.  Motorists also become conditioned to “non stop” or “roll through” movements since there is seldom any conflicting traffic on the designated minor roadway. These situations can create a false sense of security for pedestrians, especially young children.
Request council and staff increase the efforts with York Region police to schedule greater enforcement of this intersection due to its proximity to the school.

2.) Implement a hidden intersection sign
As sight lines were cited as the issue I would suggest proposing a hidden intersection sign opposed to a stop sign.  I understand that these can be implemented by the municipality and do not require the same warrants as a stop sign.

3.) Implement a stop sign
The way I understand it in order for and All-way Stop to be warranted at an intersection, both the peak hour volume and volume split must meet the warrants that are outlined in the Ontario Traffic Manual.   It has already turned down (now three times).
The recent addition of the sidewalk on the south side of Kemano and the problem that it presents of moving pedestrians from Kemano North on to Banff by forcing them to Jay-walk does need to be addressed and should influence the decision with respect to warrants.

I was unable to attend the General committe meeting of February 7th to hear the delegation but understand that some of my points may have been incorporated.

Luckily Alison Collins-Mrakas covered the points raised by the delegation and the resulting debate and actions in the February 9, 2012 episode of her show “Our Town”.  You can watch it here:

On the subject of enforcement the Feb 8th edition of the Era Banner announced “York Region is considering a plan to create community safety zones” :–plan-aims-to-slow-down-traffic

Staff Sgt. Brad Bulmer is quoted as saying:

 “York Regional Police supports any move to improve safety near schools — including the use of community safety zones.” 

This is another direction for the Devins Dr. Traffic Council, as well as town staff to explore.

I appreciate, and fully endorse the push to increase safety efforts, especialy around schools.

The gut reaction seems to be to add additional safety measures, signage and implements, and there is logic in this approach.

But there are also huge flaws in this logic, the primary one being not fully recognizing the human factor.

Traffic engineer Hans Monderman’s take on “Psychological Traffic Calming” was featured in a 2004 Wired article here:

“The trouble with traffic engineers is that when there’s a problem with a road, they always try to add something.  To my mind, it’s much better to remove things.”

No doubt Monderman would agree with the majority of Aurorans that the failed experiment of forced “Traffic Calming” in the NE part of town was doomed from its conception.

Monderman is Dutch, but unlike the schoiolbuscycle his research cannot be dismissed, he’s not alone.

The advocacy for this movement is growing and will likely suprise you as it did me.

Also in 2004 Kenneth Todd wrote an article titled “Traffic Control: An Exercise in Self-Defeat” you can read it here:

This 2005 piece in the guardian speaks to a major report on Psychological Traffic calming for the U.K. Dept. of Transport:

The BBC also covered the topic in 2005 here:

Ben Hamilton-Baillie, an Urban design specialist outlines why he believes the experiment is effective in calming traffic:

“This approach draws on behavioural psychology involving the way drivers respond to their surroundings.  It removes the sense of security provided by barriers – such as kerbs, and traffic lights.  Instead of relying on the street system for security, drivers are forced to use their reactions.”

Mental speedbumps are discussed in this 2006 for SEED Magazine titled “BEHAVIORAL PSYCHOLOGY’S UNEXPECTED LESSON FOR URBAN DESIGN”:

“The whole notion behind psychological traffic calming is to give drivers responsibility for the speed they choose,” said Andrew Parkes, a research scientist at the U.K.-based Transport Research Laboratory (TRL). 

Tom Vanderbilt, author of “Traffic : Why We Drive The Way We Do (And What It Says About Us)” suggests ‘norms, and not laws’ are the key to traffic safety in this 2008 DailyMail piece:

So how effective is this approach for North America?

A buch of University of Waterloo have set up this website to investigate:

Thus, when it comes to the question of whether or not psychological traffic calming will be effective in North America, the answer is nearing yes. Studies are being carried out in different parts of Europe and North America with encouraging results. The long-term effectiveness will still have to be determined. Nonetheless, the main concern seems not to lie in the effectiveness of traffic calming techniques but rather in the minds of the North American people. It will definitely take a while to shift the paradigms of an entire continent but don’t be surprised to see signs of traffic calming at an intersection near you some day in the near future.            

Over on the Discussion Board of the Ontario Traffic Council website here:    were some comments of note:

Thursday July 10, 2008 at 08:17 PM

Came across an interesting article by an author named Staddon: 
His point is that too many signs of all kinds not only distract drivers from actually looking at the road — sort of where you’d think they ought to be looking — but also cause drivers to adapt to the driving environment in “profoundly unhealthy ways.”
All those stop signs teach drivers to be less observant of the traffic flow — as long as they just obey the sign and stop, nothing else matters. If someone runs the stop sign in the crossing direction, it’s their fault.Staddon says he is not necessarily suggesting a traffic free-for-all, although several communities in The Netherlands, England and even Florida (West Palm Beach) have done just that, with fantastic results — pedestrian casualties are down by 40 per cent or more, for example.
Why? Because removing the signs, sidewalks, traffic lights, etc., forces drivers and pedestrians to take personal responsibility for their own safety.
Guess what? They do.

Ron Hamilton, Vice-President, OTC responds

Thursday November 27, 2008 at 10:56 PM

It’s an interesting concept technically known as “shared space” or “naked streets” and has been practiced in Europe for many years. 
I believe (the late) Hans Mondermann is credited with the initial idea and as crazy as it might sound, it seems to work in many instances. There is good information available on the internet about the concept (search key words “shared space”). How successful it would be in North America is still a matter for debate, since motorists here are essentially over regulated by signs and not sure what they should do unless they are specifically told by means of signs or traffic signals. 
During my tenure as editor of the OT Magazine in 2006 I wrote and editorial that touched on this and pedestrian safety enhancements. One downfall to the concept is cost. We are talking about major $$$ to design and implement the proper shared space environment. Any of us working for a municipality know the financial constraints we are working under! However, I can’t think of a better concept that empowers all road users to exercise common sense and take responsibility for their own safety and the safety of others on our road networks. 

Neither can I.

Traffic calming starts and ends in our minds.

Its up to us to make common sense, well, common.



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